Tom McMahon is in fine mettle today with this commentary which draws on the wisdom of a number of other writers who have been researching the changing nature of priesthood in recent decades. As he suggests in the commentary it is doubtful that those who presently control the institutional agenda are even aware of this research or the changing perceptions opening up in the wider community.
The Old War Horse rides again ... a different breed of cat ...
When the little boy from 15th Street was in seminary not a day passed in those 12 long years during which he struggled to be the best priest of service to the future people he would be privileged to serve. World War Two matured me, both my brothers at battle fronts and my widowed mother home alone with daughter and youngest son preparing for religious service to the people of God. My home was a mini-laboratory for a young stallion who entered the race-of-life upon ordination in 1954. I knew long before I was ordained that the priesthood to which I was being commissioned was a two-fold experience about which I have written under the headings of a Trentan liturgical priesthood and a service priesthood of Jesus, the human servant of humankind. Last week I sent for three text books for restudy and valuable to refresh my memory for use in Catholica commentaries.
With the death of Father William Lenane, with whom I was in seminary for nine years, I again took stock of my present position, the Vatican Two rebel exiled by the chancery office in 1980 and the self-appointed pioneer spokesman of a once proud and healthy cadre of young men who aspired to serve God in Jesus' name. Men of our vintage had in mind making the world a better and happier place for ordinary people. I invite you to read my tribute to Bill Lenane [Click Here for Pop-up], hopefully my comments will help in appreciating the massive change that has come in priesthood since the post-Vatican Two days.
Two of these recently purchased books are by the late Richard Schoenherr, a sociologist married priest whom I first listened to with fascination in Chicago in the 1970's. I need time to re-read and study FULL PEWS and EMPTY ALTARS, Demographics of the Priest Shortage , and GOODBYE FATHER, The Celibate Male Priesthood and the Future of the Catholic Church . Richard addressed issues in which I was/am living. I re-study them today with a much greater understanding. They help me clarify the massive changes that continue to take place today. The changes are like ten active volcanoes exploding worldwide at the same time.
The research of Dean Hoge...
Dean R. Hoge wrote THE FIRST FIVE YEARS OF THE PRIESTHOOD, a Study of Newly Ordained Catholic Priests in 2002, shortly before his untimely death. Dean taught sociology at the Catholic University of America, pursuing as a married Protestant with four children research on American Churches for 31 years. He wrote 14 books most of which I have personally read. Professor Hoge had a clear mind and memory as well as a good sense of humor. Allow me a personal story...
While attending a 1990's conference in New York I listened after one of Hoge's presentations to a question and answer period. I had never met the man: he East Coast scholar and myself the West Coast isolated maverick. Opportunity afforded me asking: "Dean, do you foresee in the future a place for married men in the Roman priesthood?" With a smile on his face he moved away from the mike and said "Tom, do you speak for yourself or others?" I responded "for others as I have no intention of returning". He paused, then said "the time was coming shortly where a married priesthood would return to the Roman church ..., but", he continued "they won't let you back in, Tom; you have thrown too much shit in their fan for them to ever consider you!" And so the western kid whose father was born in the pioneer Ghost Town Virginia City, Nevada in 1881 would gladly accept for a good cause this mark of Cain.
Dean Hoge will take the priesthood into a new breed of cat – a term I take from my ski buddy, retired pastor Bill. I hear about the new clergy often, steeped in clericalism and mini-roman-collar-wearing priests while still in seminary. They have a future as CEO's of an immense financial organization. Hoge's research delves into murky waters as he studies 500 newly ordained, research showing 10 to 15% of priests resigning within the first five/ten years due to loneliness, feelings of being unappreciated, problems of celibacy and disillusionment. The feeling level era is upon us. Pre-Vatican Two the issue of a priest's feelings would be unheard of. Kids in the inner cities of Detroit and Oakland will often offer as excuse for criminal behavior: "He dised me!" aka disrespected me. The thinking of Englishmen, Hume and Locke, has found its way into the modern mind, even clericalism having to deal with the dignity of the person. The psyche of the priest is becoming an open book.
Would Benedict, JPII or most bishops even
The late Pope John Paul 2 may have called celibacy and the priestly way of life the "gem" of the Roman institution. Obviously John Paul and the present Benedict the 16th never met or read Dean Hoge or Richard Schoenherr. I wonder how many bishops know these names let alone their fine work? I would be amiss not to add in here Richard Sipe and his fine books and research on clerical problems.
Let me end this commentary with a sample from GOODBYE FATHER. Being a married priest and laying aside all the hoopla about ex-priest or priest-forever Richard Schoenherr worries about a dismal future for Roman Eucharist with the declining numbers of priests, an issue Catholica's Tom disputes [See "The meaning of eucharist-Eucharist" 09 Nov 2007]. Tom holds fast to the concept that eucharist is a communty-people event not a clerical privilege. The word eucharist is made up from two Greek words, eu=well done and charism =an event. The ordained priest is merely the community approved presider who maintains order. The important action of eucharist is the coming together of followers of Jesus in unity, the taking and eating of the holy bread as sign of their oneness in Jesus. The cart is before the horse in that the bishop/priest controls the community whereas the holy spirit (way) of Jesus found in the people should be in control. If this were so in today's Roman Church a service-type priesthood would be the core of the community's action, not simply going to Sunday Mass there to meet God and Jesus through the actions of one man, the Trenten cleric.
The future of the Roman institution is in jeopardy. A new breed of priest continues to be trained in a pre-Vatican Two seminary system with its emphasis on ordained male priest on center stage. The Council of Trent violated early Christianity by anointing a male clergyman as the sole representative of the historical Jesus. The challenge today is for the laity to retake their rightly positions as the other Christs in the modern world.
We need assimilate the role of evolution into this dialogue mix. What is the future of Eucharist? and Mass? And eucharistic communities? And women and men ordained priests? I see a long road of dialogue ahead and a continuing call for the laity to be properly educated. Goodbye Father will not come about easily.
Tom McMahon, the old war horse from San Jose, Ca. 06Mar2012
What are your thoughts on this commentary?